Date of Award

12-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Wildlife and Fisheries Biology

Committee Member

Patrick G. R. Jodice, Committee Chair

Committee Member

William C. Bridges, Jr.

Committee Member

Susan C. Loeb

Abstract

North American bats are becoming increasingly threatened due to stressors such as wind energy development and the emerging infectious disease white-nose syndrome. A better understanding of the seasonal behavior and habitat associations of temperate bat species can inform conservation strategies in the face of current threats, aiding effective management of remaining populations. To this end, we used acoustic bat detectors to examine summer occupancy and winter activity of bats in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area on the Cumberland Plateau. Our specific objectives were 1) investigate the effects of post-fire landscape conditions on the summer occurrence of commuting and foraging bats by comparing bat presence in burned and unburned sites while accounting for differences in probability of detection, and 2) investigate how bat activity varies by habitat type and with temperature, wind speed, humidity, and precipitation in winter. To test the effects of prescribed fire on bat habitat use we conducted acoustic surveys from mid-May through August 2014 and 2015 at 164 sites paired between burned and unburned forests. We used occupancy modeling to test the effects of burn history, vegetation structure, and landscape characteristics for five species/species groups. Bats occupied more burned sites (91%) than unburned sites (84%). Occupancy of all species/species groups was positively associated with a history of burning, and generally associated with lower vegetative structure. These findings suggest that prescribed burning may be a beneficial forest management activity for bats of the Cumberland Plateau. To investigate winter activity, we continuously monitored bat activity from December through February 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 at nine sites in three habitat types (forests burned within 2 years, unburned forest, and open fields containing a pond). Bats were active throughout the winter. Winter activity was positively correlated with temperature and rarely occurred when temperatures were ≤0°C. While bats were active at all sites throughout winter, high activity in pond sites relative to forested sites indicated the importance of water for bats during hibernation. Therefore, managing available water sources may help to address conservation needs for bats during winter, particularly in the future as climates are predicted to become warmer and drier in the Southeast.

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